… It is not particularly urban or wild, but simply removed from one’s normal environment.
This is from the essay ‘Vernacular Parks’ by Paul Groth found in Denatured Visions: Landscape and Culture in the Twentieth Century edited by Stuart Wrede and William Howard Adams (1991):
Design professionals usually see urban parks as official places: special areas reserved for finding aesthetic and spiritual refreshment, and for learning the ruling interpretations of nature and society.
… If we look at ordinary American environments, however, we find a very different and very vibrant urban park tradition, one that we might call the vernacular park. The vernacular park is ad hoc: it is not focused on a correct visual style, on the adulation of certain types of geological or botanical specimens, or on a prescription for specific activities. It is not particularly urban or wild, but simply removed from one’s normal environment. Like other vernacular landscapes, it is not focused on the future or on abstract ideas, but instead on the present and the everyday.
[line break added] People develop vernacular parks where official order is beginning to crumble — in underused areas of the city or out on the urban fringe. An uncharacteristically permanent but ubiquitous form of a vernacular park is the speedboat dock. Vernacular parks often exist within official parks: for instance, a dirt road behind the levee of an otherwise official urban park.
Children innately create and use vernacular parks largely invisible to the adult population. For the eight-year-old with a model boat or raft to float or pull with a string, the chains of mud puddles along the side of a road form a public recreation space that can stretch for several blocks. Children of all classes and ethnic backgrounds create and use vernacular parks, but the adults who do so typically come from the lower half of the socioeconomic spectrum. They are recent urban migrants, racial or ethnic minorities, or young adults: people whom the official population might disparagingly categorize as working-class, lowbrow, redneck, or merely adolescent. They often have access to a car — most often a used car.
For these people, the vernacular park is not the covertly transformed nature of official parks, but brazenly commodified nature. The experience of nature goes hand in hand with buying, collecting, and using nature.
… the vernacular park is not a sacred realm, but a scenic backdrop for ordinary and everyday activities, many of which ignore nature altogether. Hester and McNalley [of the California Dept. of Forestry and Fire Protection, 1988] found that park users felt automobiles, trucks, loud radios, or a motorboat (in the case of water) were usually considered essential: park use could mean such mundane activities as fixing an automobile transmission or watching television.
[line break added] Throughout the United States, vernacular park use for teenagers can consist of having a drinking party or just hanging out. The nearer a vernacular park area is to the center of the city, the more likely its daytime social promenade will include waxing one’s car in the shade while potential admirers cruise by on the nearby road.
… In popular vernacular parks, seemingly random parking along the roadside and among the trees blurs the conceptual boundaries between road, parking lot, and park. Inside even Yosemite National Park (as official a park as one could find), the parking lots are dramatic in and of themselves and often see more pleasurable social activity than the hiking trails.
… Vernacular and official parks may be inherently contradictory; if so, we must ensure that park programs are pluralistic enough to allow both traditions. We must also find ways to mitigate the ecological damage of the vernacular traditions without undermining them with official control.
My most recent previous post from this book is here.